by Stephanie Sugars

I’ve been living in Cancerland for a very long time!

I couldn’t have done this without Commonweal and its extraordinary Cancer Help Program. This week I returned for our semi-annual Alumni Day. We journey there to commune with the place and with one another. There are the bluffs and beaches, the westward facing horizon, recipient of winds and storms, resting place of the setting sun.

Yes, there’s a labyrinth – smooth white stones in a dark forest – a veritable Gretel’s path winding ‘round, bringing us home to center again, then releasing us into the wider world. And there’s Pacific House – sacred gathering space for the Cancer Help Program for almost 30 years. Magic happens there.

Yesterday, I sat in Pacific House with old and new found friends. Gathered around the hearth, we made that house a home. Commonweal and its hosts have been my cancer home since January 1991 when my Reach-to-Recovery volunteer brought a self-published edition of Michael Lerner’s Choices in Healing to my hospital room while I recovered (reeled, really) from losing both of my breasts to cancer.

In 1992 when I was diagnosed with recurrence, I headed to Commonweal’s Cancer Help Program in Bolinas. Love at first sight, love that grows with time, love that holds living and dead in the palms of my hands.

The afternoon topic was fear. We shared what we know about fear; things that have helped us calm or conquer our fears and our current deepest fears.

Our ideal practice is authenticity and deep listening, without comment, fixing, advising or prescribing. We attempt to speak from our own experience and listen with our hearts. It’s an evolving process.

Intimacy without conformity. This is what I’ve longed for all my life.

To be accepted for what I am. To be granted the spaciousness to be. Not to need to change, to become the same as. And, in that acceptance, to accept everyone’s multifaceted beingness. To learn to love without expecting conformity to expectation or to the dominant cancer narratives of our day.

This is part of what we’re doing. By telling our true stories, we are making new stories for one another and those we meet.

I found myself jotting notes on some ways we calm and conquer fears: breath, determination, faith in higher power, trust in self & others; breathing, breathing, breathing; making a plan and writing it down; calling upon divine, friends and teachers; denial; going towards it fast; Ativan;  laughing; witnessing; for my body – shaking, rocking, warmth, hugs, breathing mindfulness; for my will, practicing in fearsome situations; for my community, showing up for others.

Love.

Love conquers fear and when I lose heart (courage), I can borrow from others who’ve gone the way before me.

Perhaps, dear friends old and new, you will borrow courage from me…not that I’m so brave, but that I have lived and even thrived with metastatic breast cancer for a very long time, 20+ years.  And many days, I borrow courage from your love, from you telling me that you read what I write here and elsewhere.

It might be easier to lie beneath the trees and watch the leaves and walnuts fall, the birds fly, the sky brighten and dim. It might be easier to just breathe and call it a full day. Yet, knowing that we’ve connected heart-to-heart makes everything worth it.

Thank you. I am so very grateful. You can hardly imagine.

Loving you, loving all, even the scary parts.

1992


In this podcast, Stephanie talks with Michael Lerner about her journey with illness, treatments, and healing–and the insights that come from living on the “edge of life.”

Header photo by Corinne Bayley